The Vision Behind Our Barrel Aging and Blending Program Is Still the Same!
The Goal: To create complexity centering on oak, in a multitude of forms, by brewing high gravity beers in complementary styles, aging them in different barrel formats and then blending them together to achieve harmonious new flavors.
The Puzzle: To blend these various components to create a synergistic whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. This is done with the help of a few of our neighboring Paso Robles winemakers who are practicing experts in the art of blending.
The Inspiration: Firestone Walker’s oak brewing tradition and our connection with winemaking. Of course until the advent of stainless steel, brewing was intimately linked to wood barrels and vessels. Brewing has a deeply rooted history in the alchemy of blending.
The individual lots were aged in oak barrels, many of which were hand selected from premium Kentucky spirits producers by Tom Griffin, who is extremely passionate and knowledgeable about bourbon barrels and beer. Each barrel lends its own unique influence to the final blend.
The Aging Cellar – The Components
We blended together 227 oak barrels containing 9 different beers creating something dark complex and 100% original.
Following are descriptions of key components with their names:
Parabola (13% ABV) Aged in Bourbon Barrels (38% of the final blend)
Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout
OG=30P FG=7.5P IBU=80 Color=Black / Hopped with Magnum, Styrian Golding and Hallertau Tradition
Helldorado (11.7% ABV) Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels (16% of the final blend)
Blonde Barley Wine
OG=24.8P FG=4.0P IBU=24 Color=8 / Brewed with buckwheat honey & El Dorado hops
Bravo (12.9% ABV) Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels (16% of the final blend)
Imperial Brown Ale
OG=26.5 FG=3.7 IBU=35 Color=32 / Hopped with German Magnum
Stickee Monkee (12.3% ABV) Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels (14% of the final blend)
English Barley Wine
OG=27P FG=5.4P IBU=45 Color=34 / Brewed with Belgian Candi Sugar and Mexican Turbinado (Brown) sugar
Velvet Merkin (8.5% ABV) Aged in Bourbon barrels (5% of the final blend)
Traditional Oatmeal Stout
OG=15+P FG=5.5 IBU=32.5 Color=Black / 15% Oats / Hopped with 100% US grown Fuggles
Hydra Cuveè (10.5% ABV) Aged in Bourbon Barrels - A Collaboration brewed with Flying Dog for Savor 2014 (4% of the final blend)
Blended Hybrid ½ hoppy dark beer (Gonzo and Wookey) and ½-blended barrel aged beer (DDBA and Bravo)
OG=24+P FG=5.5+ IBU=32.5 Color= Black
Wookey Jack (8.5% ABV) 100% Stainless Steel (3% of the final blend)
American Black Ale – Black IPA
OG=17.8P FG=2.5P IBU=80 Color=45+/ Dank and Dark
Ol’ Leghorn (12.5%ABV)Aged in New American Oak - A Collaboration brewed with Three Floyds for the FWIBF (2% of the final blend)
English Barley Wine
OG=27P FG=5.1P IBU=45 Color=28 / 50% 1 yr. barrel aged English Barley Wine + 50% fresh dry hopped stainless produced
Double Jack (9.5% ABV) 100% Stainless Steel
(2% of the final blend)
Double India Pale Ale
OG= 20P FG=2.5P IBU=100 Color=8 / Extremely hoppy triple dry hopped DIPA
A Note from Brewmaster Matt Brynildson
Our 18th Year!
As the 2014 brewing year got rolling, it became apparent that we were in for an exciting ride. What was once a brewery focused on brewing wood-fermented English ales and American dry hopped beer, evolved to also produce a hoppy Pilsner, a Belgian Saison, as well as a host of barrel aged wild ales! Yes, we added Opal to the lineup this year and with this beer came new Belgian yeast, which deserves equal attention and equal accommodations as our other yeasts. To make this happen and to juggle the four yeast strains we currently brew with (we still make Bavarian Hefeweizen for our Taprooms) we added a new Yeast Spa and Rejuvenation Center to the cellar. Our newly appointed yeast wrangler Sam Tierney has been put in charge of the lavish yeast resort. Each week he carefully propagates, harvests, chills, mixes, and pitches our fermenting friends, keeping them happy and refreshed – promoting the magic that only yeast can make. On the other side of the brewery we added a number of new fermenting and lagering vats, designed to be perfect for both dry hopping Union Jack as well as lagering Pivo to perfection. As this work was going on, we upgraded our keg-racking program, adding the highest quality and most thorough keg washer and gentle keg filling equipment available, housed in what we affectionately call the “Keg Shed.” As if this wasn’t enough for Will Crosby and the packaging crew to handle on the improvement front, we added a cannery to the brewery! We now offer our beers in bottles, kegs and cans. This will allow our fans to carry FW brews to the beach, on the trails, to the golf course or wherever a tasty brew is called for. A lot of thought and effort was taken to ensure that our new can line will perform as well as our faithful bottle line. Of course while this was all going on, the rest of the brew team was busy milling grains, lautering wort, cleaning tanks, propagating yeast, dry hopping fermenters, bottling, racking and shipping (not to mention constant maintenance, lab work and sensory analysis). Easy Jack, our new session IPA, was born with great success along with a host of new wild and sour beers created by our Barrelworks crew. It was truly an amazing year of brewing, improvement and creation!
The Winemakers and Friends
On the beer you are about to enjoy; this project is all about creating flavors through blending and no one knows blending better than a winemaker. As brewers in this project, we create individual beers that we believe will lend something to the blend. We add a brew or two each year to see how the winemakers react, hoping to add another splash of flavor for the final blend. Some brews are added due to brewing collaborations that we engaged in, as in the case of Ol’ Leghorn, brewed with Three Floyds, and Hydra Cuveè brewed with Flying Dog. With all of this, our hardest work is done months before the final Anniversary beer is realized. In the end, we step aside and allow our brothers and sisters in fermentation science to take over and formulate the blend. It is an amazingly educational experience. I continue to learn so much from watching and listening to them in these blending sessions. Crush (the wine grape harvest) came early this year and we were honored that these busy enologists took time away from the harvest to join us in creating this beer. I can’t help but think that being in the middle of their most intense time of year only adds to these sessions with their heightened senses being in the creative zone in the midst of crush. Many of the folks who have helped us in the past returned to lend their well-tuned senses to this project. This year’s blenders included: Matt Trevisan – Linne Calodo, Steve Martell – Kaleidos, Eric Jensen – Booker, Justin Smith – Saxum, Brock Waterman – Brochelle, Kevin Sass and Molly Lonborg – Halter Ranch, Sherman Thacher – Thacher Winery, Russell From and Philip Muzzy – Herman Story, Mark Adams – Ledge and One Time Space Man, Terry Hoage – Hoage Cellars, Chelsea Franchi and Neil Collins from - Tablas Creek and Lone Madrone. If you are into artisanal barrel aged products, then you need to check out this amazing group’s work. Also joining us was Arie Litman and his amazing homemade bread and Bobby Fox of Western Square Industries. It was a great group who worked in teams to create a number of different potential blends. We then had the winemakers taste through them blindly and vote to select this year’s awesome blend. When the dust settled, it was the blend created by Russell and Philip of Herman Story that is in this bottle. A lot has happened since that first “10” blending session and each year the experience gets better.
The Finished Piece
As a finished beer, XVIII is a dark and complex brew full of malt and barrel derived flavors, with Parabola leading the brew into the rich darkness. The beer is unfiltered and unfined, so there will be a small amount of sediment in the bottom of the bottle. XVIII is best enjoyed poured carefully into a half filled brandy snifter or wine glass. Allow it to warm to 55F to fully enjoy the pleasing and complex aromas. As the beer sits and breathes in the glass, rich dark chocolate, toasted oak and dark fruit character is revealed, so take your time. If you wait to open your bottle later, store it in a cool dark place. I suspect that this beer will age well and change favorably for years to come. It was an absolute pleasure in the making and I truly hope you enjoy our ninth oak-aged blend! The journey continues and it’s just as fun and exciting now as it was back in 1996.
This beer is dedicated to Jake and the rest of the amazing Wolfe family who have supported this community, our brewery and me personally since the beginning. We love you dearly.